As I read in the news recently, heroin use is up. Heroin can be a deadly drug (it is easy to overdose on it), and that means overdose deaths have also increased. This makes news, both local, state and national. It can also lead to mainstream news media hype.
From decade to decade there is always some kind of drugs that users flock to. In the 1980s it was crack cocaine. Later it was methamphetamine. Now it is heroin. The problem is that such news usually causes unnecessary hype in the news media followed by over reactions by our elected officials.
Mandatory minimum sentencing and restrictions on over-the-counter cold medicines are examples of actions or overreactions by legislators trying to deal with these drug epidemics.
The latest hype-fad is to link new heroin use with legal pain medicines manufactured for chronic pain.
According to a Reuters report:
"Such medicines, which include Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet, increase individuals’ susceptibility to heroin addiction, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters.
“Everything we see points to more accessible, less-expensive heroin all over the country,” Frieden said of the joint report by the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which analyzed national survey data on drug use from 2002 to 2013.
The report found that nearly all people (96 percent) who use heroin also use multiple other substances, and that the strongest risk factor for heroin abuse is prescription opiate abuse."
The article then claims that people who use or abuse prescription painkillers are 40 times more likely to use heroin. But what statistics or facts do they present to back up that claim? The article presents statistics taken to show that the use of heroin is in fact increasing. Hospitals have recorded increases in heroin overdoses. But much of what it says about prescription drugs, such as OxyContin, seem more opinion than fact. And I would definitely challenge such opinions.
This doesn't sound much different from the old arguments that marijuana leads to heroin. That argument still gets made and it is totally illogical. It is true that many hard drug users start with marijuana. But many people today smoke marijuana and never use anything harder. Also people who sell hard drugs are also likely to sell marijuana.
But this 'one-leads-to-the-other' chain of events is simply bogus.
First of all, prescription narcotics have an intended use. They are for serious pain. And there are people who really need those drugs to deal with that pain. Preventing patients from getting those drugs amounts to torture. Then there are people who use and abuse such drugs when they can get them on the black market or from friends. Most of these people do not jump from prescription narcotics to heroin. Many of the people, who use prescription narcotics, don't know where to get heroin. Also their is still a great stigma (the perception that this drug is the most dangerous and most addictive) to heroin use that does not surround the use of prescription narcotics.
I used to take part in the drug culture so I am familiar with the patterns of such drug users. Some people do use both prescription narcotics and heroin. Many people on heroin will use prescription narcotics if they are available and heroin is not. But the stigma of heroin keeps a lot of prescription narcotic users from seeking it when their narcotics of choice are not available.
All this hype is probably going to lead to more restrictions on prescription drugs that are already classified as CII (schedule II), the most restricted classification of pharmaceutical drugs. Heroin is CI meaning that it is can not be prescribed because it is considered to dangerous for medical use.
I have known people who have had cancer and they had trouble finding doctors who were willing to prescribe drugs to deal with their pain. Already some doctors are afraid of coming under the suspicion of the DEA so they don't like to prescribe any pain killers. That is a problem that many patients, who need these medicines, have. One proposal to stop people from getting narcotics would be to keep them from "doctor shopping" for those who will give them the pain killers they seek. Again the problem is that some patients with pain really need those drugs and their doctor may not want to prescribe them. I knew a cancer patient that had this problem. If he could not have gone to a different doctor, how was he supped to get the pain medicine he needed?
According to Reuters:
"He (Frieden) said doctors are prescribing “way too much of these medications, and the result of it is large numbers of people who are addicted.”
And what exactly does this mean. Are doctors writing prescriptions without any proof of pain? Are they giving out OxyContin for mild head aches? Or is this statement jus his opinion?
The usual pattern on these drug epidemics is the press begins pouring out a lot of hype about the drug and it dangers. As with heroin the dangers are real. While other prescription drugs may also have their dangers and can also be addictive, the press is likely to exaggerate those dangers. This will whip the public into panic mode. Then lawmakers will come up with draconian measures that will infringe on people's constitutional rights, putting more people in jail and putting a lot of needless red tape against those who actually need these drugs. Drug abuse in
usually leads to sensationalism by the press and repression by the government.
We need to oppose both.
 See Steve Otto, War on Drugs or War on People?, (Ide House, Las Colinas, Texas) 1995.
 Drugs, substances, and certain chemicals used to make drugs are classified into five distinct categories or schedules. schedule V is the least restrictive and schedule II is the most. Schedule I is banned from pharmaceutical use.